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Utah Democrats' attempt to replace an ailing candidate on the ballot was rejected Monday, after the party got bad advice from the state elections office and Republicans challenged the move.
The misstep means that Ogden City Councilman Jesse Garcia will have to remain on the November ballot in House District 10, which covers parts of Weber County, even though a doctor vouched that Garcia's health prevented him from campaigning for the seat.
"We're not real happy about it," said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon.
Democrats had contacted the state elections office part of the Republican-led lieutenant governor's office on Aug. 24, to find out the deadline to remove Garcia from the ballot. Under the law, a candidate who is unable to campaign for health reasons can be replaced before the ballot certification deadline.
The elections office told Democrats the deadline to replace Garcia was Aug. 31 and the party filed the paperwork and doctors note to replace Garcia with retired Salt Lake City police detective Eric Irvine on that day. Irvine had run two years earlier and lost to Rep. Dixon Pitcher, 57 percent to 43 percent.
But the statutory deadline is actually the day before the candidates are certified, meaning Democrats missed the deadline by a day, based on elections officials' errant advice.
Republican officials found out about the mistake on Monday and, Corroon said, threatened to sue the state if Irvine was allowed to be on the ballot.
"Now we have a candidate who has physical health issues and has to stay on the ballot without being able to run for office at the crucial time when people actually start paying attention to the elections," Corroon said.
Mark Thomas, director of the state elections office, said that the office tried to work with the parties and the candidates "to make the best of the situation."
"Everyone felt comfortable going back to what the statute says," Thomas said. "So we're going to go off of that, so that would mean that any activity after [Aug. 30] would not be considered valid and so Jesse Garcia stays on the ballot and would not be able to get replaced by Mr. Irvine."
Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans said he contends that Garcia's withdrawal should be valid, but Democrats should not be able to replace him.
"Our position is simply that, right now, there's no Democrat candidate who qualifies," Evans said.
But Thomas said that Garcia's withdrawal was contingent upon his replacement by Irvine, so the office will not accept either action and Garcia will stay on the ballot.
"That might be [Evans'] contention," Thomas said, but Pitcher, Garcia's Republican opponent, proposed the solution. "He's not trying to get a free pass through this," Thomas said.
Evans would not say if the GOP will take further action to get Garcia disqualified from the ballot.
"We'll wait for the official letter from the lieutenant governor and we'll evaluate that to determine our next step," Evans said.